Let the VR wars begin.
What’s circular, black, and has 17 integrated cameras?
No, it’s not that drone that keeps flying by your yard (but seriously, what is that?) — it’s the latest entrant into the ultra-hot 360-video camera space courtesy of Google, and it’s called the Yi Halo.
The Halo is the next-generation Jump camera. Jump, you may remember, is Google’s platform for 360 video cameras. What makes Jump different from consumer 360 cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 are two things:
The cameras are aimed at pros or semi-pros, combining several cameras in a circular array so the video actually has depth — as opposed to a "flat" video that looks like it’s painted on the inside of a sphere.
Jump is actually a camera platform, not a camera itself. Google gives guidance on the camera rig and builds the software for syncing and combining the footage from the individual cameras to create the 360 video
Google announced Jump and unveiled the first Jump camera, the GoPro Odyssey, almost two years ago. That one combined 16 GoPro Hero 4 Black cameras in a circular array.
The new Jump similarly has 16 cameras arranged in a circle, but this time out they can shoot at 4K resolution. Plus there’s an extra camera, facing up, for a total of 17. With the cameras, the rig weighs less than eight pounds.
While immediately impressive on its surface, there’s more here than meets the eye. That’s thanks to what Google calls the Jump Assembler — the specialty software that stitches the 17 separate video streams together into one seamless 3D video. The stitching process, which in the past required expensive software and was done manually, is now completely automated.
"What used to take weeks now takes hours," Amit Singh, VP of business at Google VR, told a group of reporters gathered in Google’s San Francisco offices.
Perhaps feeling the pressure following Facebook’s big 360 camera announcement, the x24, Sean Da, CEO of camera manufacturer Yi Technologies, emphasized that the Yi Halo is ready for its debut.
"This is a commercial product," he explained. "It’s ready. This is not a proof of concept."
It is unclear when Facebook’s x24 will become available for purchase.
The Halo is some serious tech, and as Da noted it’s primarily intended for commercial use — something its $16,999 price tag makes clear (the GoPro Odyssey, at $15,000, was similarly priced). But that cost might be OK for many professional creators, who touted the camera’s features and ease of use.
"Most people don’t understand how difficult it was to make VR even a year ago," Emmy nominated VR director Armando Kirwin told reporters at a Google-hosted briefing about the new Jump camera. "This camera is better across the board."
Kirwin said that just two years ago it cost VR directors between $8,000 and $20,000 to stitch together a single minute of 360 VR video. No more. With the Jump Assembler and the Yi Halo, that process is a fraction of the cost.
"[A] truly profound change in the industry," he added.
Google is rushing to get these cameras into the hands of creators, and is launching a program called Jump Start to make that happen. The program lets filmmakers use a Jump camera for free and also unlimited use of the Jump Assembler. However, you’ll need to apply and wait to hear from Google, and only 100 creators will get the privilege.
As for competition from Facebook?
"Cameras are hot," Singh observed. "[Competition] is good. We planned this a while ago."